Forward-thinking young women continue to break new ground in engineering
Image credit: Central College Nottingham
More young women are being introduced to STEM careers based on their personal interests and are achieving great things from a young age.
The Engineering Council’s latest Annual Registration Statistics Report shows that 9,937 engineers and technicians were added to the national register in 2016, an increase of more than six per cent on the previous year. The report also reveals that the number of women who became professionally registered last year increased by over 19 per cent compared to 2015.
“While the proportion of women engineers and technicians on the register is still low, the number of female registrations has been consistently growing year on year,” Engineering Council CEO Alasdair Coates said recently.
This is due to many colleges becoming committed to challenging stereotypes as well as numerous initiatives in the professional engineering community that work hard to promote and support women in engineering.
Such measures include The 5% Club, whose members comprise large and small employers from a wide range of sectors seeking to support the UK’s ability to compete in increasingly tough global markets. The ‘club’ focuses on recruiting apprentices and graduates into the workforce – aiming to ensure that within a five year period at least five per cent of a company’s overall UK employees are formed from apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate structured ‘earn and learn’ programmes.
Birmingham-based adi Group, an organisation providing engineering solutions to industries like aerospace/defence, petrochemical, manufacturing et al is a member of The 5% Club. In 2014 the organisation launched its Apprenticeship Academy for 14-16-year-olds “to develop and mentor youngsters into the world of engineering”.
Apprenticeships last three to four years, with part-time training in broad-based engineering basics at a local college or training provider, and work towards an advanced apprenticeship level 3 qualification.
Alicia Southerton was inspired to join adi Group’s scheme after visiting her dad’s workplace at Jaguar Land Rover, Solihull.
“That visit sparked my interest in engineering,” says Southerton. “I think it’s an inspirational and motivational occupation and if girls ever get the opportunity they should go for it. One of the things I really enjoy on my course is working with metal – how to cut and measure it etc. Engineering is definitely not just a ‘boy’ thing to do!”
One UK college that is passionate about challenging stereotypes is Central College Nottingham. In the last few years Central has invested over £8m to improve its facilities and in 2013 became the first college in the UK to be awarded a Student Carer's kitemark by the Carers Foundation.
One of its current students is Bria Edgley-Green, who after completing a year of A levels decided to quit and applied for a level 2 engineering course. She is currently studying for a level 3 BTEC extended diploma in engineering – equivalent to three A levels.
“The staff at Central College focus on what’s next more than the staff at my school did,” explains Edgely-Green. “They advise about HNDs and apprenticeships, and employers come in to talk to us about careers and apprenticeships too. Also the facilities, like for welding, are good and aren’t something I’d have had at school.”
“People make a big deal out of it as not many girls going into engineering, which is a real shame, but once you’re there, it’s fine,” Edgely-Green says. “It’s only natural to feel nervous about ‘stereotypical’ roles like engineering but that shouldn’t be a reason not to do something you love – whether you are male or female.”
On completion of her current course Edgely-Green is considering applying for an apprenticeship to get some work experience, and then a HND at Central College.
Many universities offer courses that include a ‘year in industry’ – like Queens University Belfast (QUB). MEng product design engineering student Nuala Maskey got her placement through the Engineering Leadership programme that QUB runs. Every year ten companies sponsor students throughout the year and Maskey chose to apply for a position at CUBIS Systems; a leading manufacturer of cable pit and ducting systems, used in the construction of infrastructure networks worldwide.
After a rigorous interview process, which included candidates from mechanical, aerospace and product design engineering courses, Maskey was awarded the placement.
“I have always been interested in design and have had my sights set on a career in design since I was 15,” says Maskey. “I always enjoyed art and design as well as maths and physics in school and thought that product design would be a perfect combination of the two.”
Throughout her placement Maskey has been involved in as many R&D projects as possible, such as working with the head design engineer developing new products for the area sales teams for France, Australia and rest of world.
“It’s been challenging but also rewarding as I have been given quite a lot of responsibility in my role at Cubis, which has been great for a placement student like myself.
“The technical team has been very welcoming and my colleagues provide any support I need. I found that when I first started, they went out of their way to show me the ropes. The managers also ensure that I am always doing work that I am interested in doing while also doing valuable work for the company.”
Maskey still has another two years of study to go after which she hopes to pursue design engineering as a career.
“I really like the active engineering work and actually practising engineering, so I will stay in a role that allows me to do that and gain as much experience as I can for a number of years. Any role I take on would definitely have to allow me to progress and eventually work my way to a leadership position.”
Across the Atlantic, another enthusiastic female has also already made great strides early in her internship. Allison Kassian, a civil engineering technology student at Metropolitan State University Denver, has helped construct a US$50m building for her university’s aerospace and engineering sciences department while employed by GH Phipps as a project engineer intern.
Kassian’s responsibilities during her year included conducting safety checks, monitoring workflow through photos and keeping track of the project construction details to ensure the project comes in on budget and in time for its inauguration this June. After cutting the ribbon on the building she helped to construct and also having just graduated, Kassian will continue to work for GH Phipps throughout the summer as a full-time field engineer.
And while more women engineers are striving to get to the top there are many who already have. Take Dr Simona Vasilescu, who graduated from the University of Bucharest with a biochemistry degree, finalised her PhD in molecular biology and genetics at UMIST, Manchester and is now product and marketing manager on the Water Treatment Innovation platform for Wolverhampton-based company NCH Europe.
Her role is incredibly varied: including understanding customers’ requirements and developing new and innovative technical solutions to address their needs. For example, she has recently been involved in the development and launch of NCH’s new patented biofilm conditioning product, which removes damaging biofilms in water cooling systems. This role also involves extensive travelling between in-country teams across Europe.
“The water treatment platform of the business is predominantly led by women and we have just added two female engineers to our UK water treatment team,” says Vasilescu. “NCH’s success with women filling engineering roles is consistent throughout Europe. In Turkey, for instance, we have had several new female graduate engineers join our team in the last couple of years, while we also have women in top technical or sales roles in the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.”
During her years as an engineering professional Vasilescu has not experienced many difficulties in her role – except from the occasional raised eyebrow from new male engineers or senior members of staff she meets. However, any surprise or concern quickly dissipates once given the chance to prove her professionalism, knowledge, and understanding of the problems customers face.
“I think the industry as a whole is becoming more accepting of women in engineering and industrial roles,” says Vasilescu. “I believe that our attention to detail and good listening skills give us a definite advantage that is quickly being respected and appreciated.”
So what advice would Vasilescu give to young female graduates hoping to enter the engineering sector?
“Engineering is a fantastic sector to be in! You can provide different, interesting perspectives and insights than your male counterparts. Use your differences as an advantage when applying for or working in engineering jobs.”